Wine of the week: Foppiano winemaker finds way to tame a petite sirah

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Petite sirah can seem like a runaway Mustang, impossible to tame.

But Natalie West, winemaker of Healdsburg’s Foppiano Vineyards, apparently has what it takes to tame the spirited grape. West is behind our wine-of-the week winner — the Foppiano Vineyards, 2011 Russian River Valley Petite Sirah at $25.

“At first, the wine is rough and wild, with heavy tannins and huge acidity,” West said. “As it ages, all the different components start to mellow and blend together to create a beautiful, elegant, complex wine. It’s amazing to see the metamorphosis.”

At Foppiano, petite sirah has always been a focus, and West said she treats the grape like pinot noir to tease out its elegance.

“The biggest challenge about producing petite sirah is tannin management, both in the vineyard and in the winery,” West said.

“It is very easy to get an out-of-balance, over-extracted petite sirah. Gentle handling and monitoring of the wine in all stages ensures the right tannin balance,” she added.

What the uninitiated don’t know is that petite sirah is full of potential, a grape with limitless possibility, West said. “People don’t realize how complex and elegant petite sirah can be.”

“It is a big red wine, however it can have lovely acidity, beautiful fruit expression, excellent tannin structure and age-ability of the best cabernet sauvignons,” she added.

West, who studied at UC Davis, said she has been immersed in the grape culture since childhood.

“My parents have vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley that I grew up on, and of course there were always vineyard related chores,” West said.

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